By: Stephen G. Fellajuah
The Liberia Elections Observation Network (LEON) has released its 2019 Report on Survey into issues affecting elections reform in the 73 electoral districts across the country aimed at understanding people habits and perceptions of issues surrounding electoral processes.
Among other things, the Report stated clearly that over ninety percent of the respondents voted in either the first or the second of the 2017 elections and planned to vote in the next election general election. “Thus, a very high percent of respondents are still interested in exercising their right to vote. Thirteen percent of voters said that at some time they have been asked by a candidate of political party to register in different district so that they could vote for them, commonly known as trucking. Almost two thirds of those offered money had accepted since the money offered was between ten and twenty US dollars. This represents some 8 percent of all voters having been trucked at some point. A third of people who were registered in precinct with more than polling place in 2017 found it hard to find their names on the voter list on Election Day, which caused 10 percent of these to join the wrong queue. A third of respondent also said it also took over ten minutes for the Voter Identification Officer to find their names on the voter list. This is because the registration Roll is ordered by registration number and not by name,” the LEON report said.
It should be recalled that in August 2019 the Liberia Elections Observation Network conducted a survey of five thousand two hundred and twenty-three (5,223) respondents across all electrical districts in Liberia where a vast majority of the people want the electoral season to go beyond the rainy season in October, to reflect the dry season when people can move about freely across the country.
“Changing the election law so that voters appear on the registration roll alphabetically, and splitting voters between the polling places in the same way would make it much clearer for people to know where to go and would make voting easier. Although seventy percent of respondents said they had heard of the National Identification Registry, just under a quarter of respondents have registered so far. The main reasons for not registering yet are it happening in the area, cost and distance to travel to register. Moreover, one third of respondents said their families don’t register babies for birth certificates and almost two third said they don’t get death certificates when someone dies. This could create a serious problem if the register is to be taken from a permanent civil registry, with increasing number of ‘ghost voters’ being present on the registration roll over time,” the LEON Report stated.
For women candidates, the elections observation group indicated key factors in choosing which candidate to vote for were reputation and campaign. However, when asked what would influence choosing a women candidate these issues ranked lower than women being perceived as peacemakers and as understanding the needs of the family. Twenty percent of respondents of either gender said they would never vote for women. The biggest reason why not was a perception that women are selfish. Only 5 percent said that women should not be in politics. Financial issues such as woman not donating to the community and not running a good campaign were also important.
The group further indicated when asked what puts women off from running for office the main reasons given were also financial and lack of support from political parties. This vindicates that parties themselves need to give more support in order to achieve more women the Legislature. Worryingly, women being afraid to run because of threats from the community was thought to be a factor for almost twelve percent of respondents.
LEON Report highlighted Civic and voter education, “just half of all the respondents generally thought they received sufficient voter education in sufficient time. Issues of voter education such as, ‘who are the candidates and ‘how to mark a ballot ‘were of great interest along with the date of elections and how to find their polling place,” noting these education issues require more interaction such as through meetings, rather than through posters, leaflets and radio jingles.
According to the group survey Radio or TV are by far more important source of information for respondents with over eighty percent saying that they receive information this way and a third saying that this is their only way of receiving information. NEC educators were in second. Twenty two percent of respondents received information from informal sources such as religious leaders, elders, family and friends. Almost all respondents agreed that there should be special voter education available for potentially marginalized groups such as the blind, deaf, women and first time voters. Almost all respondents thought that voter information should be available in local languages.
“The most common place that respondents had received civic education was at school (half of respondents). However, when we asked where people think civic education should take place, although school was still in the most important place, town hall meetings were also seen as key. Topics of greatest interest were how elections work and how elected representatives represent us,” the Report stated
The LEON Report added: “Factors that are important to ensure an election is free and fair, although factor such as an impartial election commission and processes such as a secret ballot were all perceived as very important, sixty percent of respondents thought that a peaceful process was important and forty percent said it was the most important factor.”
LEON will continue to track this question in future surveys to determine if people are by peaceful process. Greater confidence in electoral processes or political parties desisting from malpractice and harsh rhetoric could all add to feeling that peaceful processes are under threat.
The Liberia Elections Observation Network (LEON), launched in May 2017 is a platform of four Liberian Civil Society Organizations: The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Liberia Crusaders for Peace (LCP), Federation of Liberian Youth (FLY) and the National Union of Organizations for the Disabled (NUOD) with the goal to meaningfully contribute to democratization process in Liberia. LEON observed the 2017 elections with over 1000 observers and has observed subsequent by-elections and is preparing to observe in Grand Cape Mount.